“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” -Ray Bradbury
I travel a lot for work; and it’s easy to get the impression that nobody freaking reads anything anymore. It’s disheartening, man. I want to tell stories – there have to be people out there who want to unplug and hear them! This Thanksgiving, I got into a fairly cerebral chat with some family folks (I didn’t start it, honestly, was just munching chocolate pecan pie and it sort of happened!). It got me thinking, so I’ll hit you with the thought to see where you stand.
I don’t run into many people from day to day who get far beyond Youtube tutorials and whatever management book is in flavor rotation, so when this chat started, I thought it was going to go my way. Wife’s uncle leans over like he’s telling a secret and says,
“I understand you’ve published a book.”
Okay, cool. We can talk about that. And we did. He got a copy, says he’ll read it. I’m in. But somehow the whole conversation veered into the nonfiction he typically reads. Also cool, I read plenty myself. But I got the gist he never reads fiction at all. I’m back where I started. He’s not going to like the book, I know that already. But guys, I just can’t sit down and write a biography about Lyndon Baines Johnson. It’s never going to happen. We covered LBJ in more detail in that conversation than I’d have guessed you could. Apparently the man was complicated.
I enjoyed the conversation, actually. Yet it sent me off on this idea that if most folks do sit down to read, I’m not running into the type that want to get totally lost in an imagined world with gargantuan ideas, flash-bang battles and clashing intrigue. That’s my thing, man. I can’t get enough of getting lost in a great book where sometimes I have to look up and ponder something I read. That’s my baseline for when I’m writing – I want to engineer that. Every time.
Jump ahead a few days. Christmas shopping on-line. To be honest, I was actually looking for cool stuff to put on my own Christmas list so my wife doesn’t just get me more Doctor Who merchandise. Was reading reviews of the Kindle Paperwhite to see if I should go back to e-ink screen readers. Page after page of folks who are apparently of my tribe – talking about the lake, the beach, camping, trains, in bed at night, by fireplaces, in hotel lobbies. Awesome people who love a great book. I was feeling better.
Then I found a guy who put a Cheshire Cat grin on my face. He’s your kind of guy too. Check this out.
If you can’t read the image, here’s the text:
“I wasn’t planning on posting a review. However, something happened that prompted me to go ahead and post a review of this amazing device.
“I was well into a nice space opera book on my Kindle Paperwhite when I caught myself talking, rather loudly, to the device in response to what was happening in the story within the book. It occurred to me at that moment that the Kindle had disappeared and allowed me to immerse myself in the book so fully that I felt as if I were living inside the story rather than reading text on a screen.” -Rev. Ian MacGregor
Let’s dissect this guy for a second. He was ‘well into a nice space opera book’. Wow. Already my buddy. The man was actually talking to his Kindle. I can’t say I relate to that; but this guy is one of my favorite people on the planet now. He was talking loudly to his Kindle. And he got totally lost in the story. Whatever the crap this dude was reading, I’d like to know. The Reverend MacGregor is not only in my tribe, he’s the goll-darn shaman!
So what do you think about the future of fiction? Interesting, ground-breaking fiction that pushes cool intellectual or narrative boundaries, I mean…not gobbledygook thrillers that software will eventually write, optimized through the bestseller list algorithms. Try this quote on for size:
“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries” Rene Descartes
I hear you, Rene. But who are we going to have these conversations with?
3 thoughts on “The Coffee And Book People Are Still Out There”
I don’t think fiction is any real trouble. Who you associate with the most is going to determine what impression you get of the reading public. I read mostly fiction, and much of that is SF, but I’m not of your specific tribe. I don’t go for space opera, flash bang battles and clashing intrigue. Almost any genre or subgenre is open to originality and boundary-breaking, but most writers are more interested in making money, so it’s always going to be hard to find.
I suggest you do get a Kindle Paperwhite, or something similar, if you want to expand your reading horizons. Some of the most interesting SF I’ve read is available only in ebook format.
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I’m curious after your comments and your criminal justice emphasis – what are three of your all time favorite SF books? Better not just name them, what was it about them?
Very little of SF addresses criminal justice in any serious way, so my favorite books, if I could name them, don’t reflect my interest in that subject. Quite honestly, I’ve never made any attempt to pick out my “favorites.” I’m just not a “Top 40” or “Ten Best” kind of person. There are books I reread because they have something that’s worth going back to, that can trigger new ideas about important topics. Dune would be at the top of that list because it covers such a broad spectrum — politics, power, ecology, change over spans of time. A more recent book that I suppose could go on a list would be Mary Doria Russell’s Children of God, which looks at space exploration from an anthropological point of view. She shows how our own perceived needs can destroy a culture, even with the best of intentions to refrain from interference. We can never fully understand the minds of others, and they can never understand ours, and that is at the root of conflict and tragedy.
What SF lacks, and I’m generalizing here, is big ideas. It tends to take close-up looks at specific ideas, but seldom addresses expanding consequences. That’s what I miss and keep looking for.